It’s impossible to talk about oregano and not think about pizza. The instant connection with this ever-popular junk food may create a negative association, but oregano is a herb and offers a variety of benefits just like other herbal ingredients. It’s not just a pizza dressing and the strong, pleasant aroma of oregano makes it a versatile ingredient in any kind of cuisine. The oregano herb belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae) and is native to the Mediterranean region. The leaves of the oregano plant are dried and used as a culinary spice, adding flavour to various dishes, especially Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. Apart from its culinary uses, oregano has been valued for its medicinal properties in traditional medicine for centuries. This is why dried oregano has been embraced in Ayurveda too, despite the fact that the herb is not native to India.
Health Benefits Of Oregano
- Antibacterial Properties
Oregano contains compounds like carvacrol and thymol, which have demonstrated strong antibacterial properties. Studies suggest that oregano oil may help combat harmful bacteria such as the common Escherichia coli, potentially aiding the treatment of such infections 1.
- Antiviral Activity
The same compounds that give oregano benefits for bacterial infections can also help combat certain viruses. Research indicates that they may have inhibitory effects on viruses like herpes simplex and the norovirus 2.3.
- Antioxidant Effects
Oregano is rich in antioxidants, including polyphenols and flavonoids, which help neutralize free radicals in the body 4. This antioxidant activity may contribute to reducing oxidative stress and protecting cells from damage.
- Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Oregano contains compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, such as rosmarinic acid and carvacrol. Studies indicate that the anti-inflammatory effects of such compounds could help reduce swelling significantly, but more trials are needed in humans 5.
- Gastrointestinal Health
Oregano has been used traditionally to aid digestion and relieve mild gastrointestinal problems. These traditional uses of the oregano plant are supported by research into the herb’s potential as a healthy natural food preservative that also promotes gastrointestinal health 6.
- Anti-Diabetic Potential
Some studies suggest that oregano extracts may have a positive effect on blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, making it potentially beneficial for people with diabetes 7.
- Antifungal Activity
Oregano oil has been found to exhibit antifungal properties, effective against certain types of fungi, including Candida species, which can cause yeast infections 8.
- Respiratory Support
Oregano has been used traditionally to alleviate respiratory issues. The compounds in oregano may help reduce symptoms of respiratory infections and asthma.
- Cardiovascular Health
Oregano consumption has been associated with improved lipid profiles, including reduced levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides, which are beneficial for heart health 9.
- Muscle Recovery
Oregano consumption may improve performance naturally because of its high antioxidant content. Some research shows that it can protect against muscle damage following rigorous exercise, improving recovery time and preparedness 10.
How To Add Oregano To Your Diet
Here are some tips and suggestions on how to add oregano to your diet:
- Sprinkle on pizza: This is a no-brainer as it’s the best-known use for oregano in India. After baking or reheating your pizza, sprinkle some dried oregano over the top for an extra burst of flavour.
- Mix into pasta sauces: Add dried oregano to your favourite pasta sauces or even homemade tomato sauces for a Mediterranean twist.
- Flavour olive oil: Infuse olive oil with dried oregano and use it for dipping bread or drizzling over salads.
- Season roasted vegetables: Toss roasted vegetables with a mix of dried oregano, olive oil, salt, and pepper for a delicious side dish.
- Make herb butter: Blend softened butter with minced fresh oregano and other herbs of your choice. Use it to enhance the flavour of grilled meats or vegetables.
- Season soups and stews: Add dried oregano to soups and stews to enhance the overall taste.
- Sprinkle on salads: Fresh oregano leaves can be chopped and added to salads for a burst of flavour.
- Mix into marinades: Incorporate dried oregano into marinades for chicken, fish, or beef to infuse them with a savoury taste.
Oregano Side Effects & Safety
There is no prescribed safe upper limit of oregano consumption as it is generally regarded as safe and healthy when used as garnishing in meals. However, this does not mean that it poses no risk of side effects at all and it’s important to exercise moderation, particularly with oregano oil or concentrated oregano supplements. Oregano oil is potent and should be used with caution, as it can cause irritation or burning sensations when taken in excessive amounts. Always follow the recommended dosage if you are using oregano oil as a supplement.
Possible side effects of oregano consumption are generally mild but may include:
- Allergic reactions: Some individuals may be allergic to oregano, and consumption can lead to symptoms like itching, rash, or difficulty breathing. If you suspect an allergy, discontinue use and seek medical attention.
- Gastrointestinal upset: Consuming very large amounts of oregano can lead to stomach upset or digestive issues in some individuals.
- Interactions with medications: Oregano may interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners or antidiabetic drugs. If you are taking any medications, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider before using oregano supplements.
- Skin irritation: Direct contact with undiluted oregano oil can cause skin irritation or sensitivity. Always dilute oregano oil before topical application.
Is there any Indian herbal alternative to oregano?
Dried fenugreek leaves, or kasoori methi, impart a slightly bitter and earthy flavour to dishes, resembling a blend of celery and fennel seeds, much like how western cuisines use dried thyme or oregano.
Can oregano be used in Indian cooking?
Oregano can be used in Indian cuisine, but it is not compatible with many dishes as it has a subtle flavour that would be lost if combined with spicy dishes.
Can fresh oregano be eaten?
Fresh oregano is less commonly used than dried oregano, as its pungent flavour is best reserved for the final 15 minutes of cooking rather than consuming it raw.
It’s essential to note that while oregano offers several potential health benefits, it should not replace medical treatment for specific conditions. As with any herbal supplement, it’s best to check with a healthcare professional before using oregano for medicinal purposes, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for general information and not meant to substitute any medical advice. Please consult your doctor for appropriate medical consultation.